Jesse Holth is a writer, editor, and poet living in Lekwungen territory (Victoria, BC). She grew up in Calgary, AB, and moved to the West Coast to pursue degrees in English and Anthropology, both of which she holds from the University of Victoria. Her poems have appeared in Grain, Room, CV2, Prairie Schooner, and other publications across the U.S. and Canada. She recently edited a series of essays, Ecopoetics in the Era of Climate Crisis, as Editor-in-Residence at The Puritan’s Town Crier, and has served as Guest Editor for issues of antilang. and The Tishman Review. Pushing back against the detrimental effects of capitalism, consumerism, and heteropatriarchy, her poetry often tackles misogyny and environmental concerns. From takeout containers and microplastics to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, she is interested in the role of poetry in social justice and political activism. Influences include Camille T. Dungy, Brenda Hillman, and Joy Harjo.
Emily Dickinson was the first poet I ever really loved. I also remember reciting Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" over and over for drama class, where we co-wrote and performed a play that borrowed heavily from the poem. But I felt completely limited by what we were studying in English, so I turned to music for an alternate source of poetic language. I immersed myself in music and lyrics, particularly songs with strong imaginative elements—it was the first time I realized what language could do, or was capable of.
From the inventive song titles of Sufjan Stevens (Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I shake the dirt from my sandals as I run) to metaphoric lyrics like "the wind is making speeches / and the rain sounds like a round of applause" (Tom Waits) or "my heart / safe from the guards / of intellect and reason" (Tracy Chapman), I started to listen more carefully, to attune myself to language. In early university, I remember getting excited about a poem I read that used swear words and talked about graffiti—that was my introduction to modern poetry.
I had written songs in high school, and I journaled quite a bit, which helped me get into a writing practice, but I didn't try writing poetry until my mid 20's. It took me a long time to start thinking of myself as a poet—probably after I had one of my poems published in a "legitimate" literary magazine, which is absurd. Who decides what is "legitimate"? I've always resisted the idea that poetry has to be a prescribed form, that it has to follow certain rules. Rule-breaking creates some of the best poetry, in my opinion. I also believe everyone has a potential "poet" inside them.
To change the way you look at the world, or the way you look at yourself. A poet's job is to take something you think you know, and turn it on its head. Good poetry is full of surprises. It makes you question things, or connect deeply, across time and space. It's about sense, intuition—a good poem takes your breath away. It redefines your perspective.
I would choose "The limpness of a bird's legs in flight." by Aisha Sasha John. I had never read this poem before, and it absolutely stunned me. The language contains such contradiction, and possibility. It's the kind of poem you can keep coming back to and find new meaning each time. I fell in love with it—plus it sounds gorgeous read aloud.